Mountain Man Case History


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Mountain Man Case History

Teacher’s Information Book

Case Description and Instructions for Use……… page 2

A Brief History of the Fur Trade………page 3

Artifact Descriptions and Photos……..……… 5

Lesson Plans and State Standards……… 11

Game Instructions……….. page 37

Game Supplies……….page 38

Audio Tape of Stories and Music……….... page 41

Video Vocabulary and Discussion Questions……….……. page 47

Fur Trade Bibliography………page 51

To return this kit, you may send it via UPS, FedEx, U.S. Mail, or you may bring it back in person. If you are mailing the kit, please remember to insure it for $500.00. Simply remove the mailing label from the lid, flip it over and reinsert it in the label holder. You are

responsible for return postage.

Reminder: Please remember to return the kit by its due date since others are scheduled to receive it immediately following you.


Exploring the Kit

Welcome to the Fur Trade Case History!

Help your students explore the artifacts, information, and activities packed inside this kit, and together you will discover some very exciting history! This kit is for students of all ages, but it is designed to be of most interest to students from fourth through eighth grades, the years in which Colorado history is most often taught. Younger children may require more help and guidance with some of the components of the kit, but there is something here for everyone.

Case Components

The Fur Trade Case History is made up of eight components described in detail below: 1. Teacher’s Information Booklet – This guidebook contains information about each

artifact of the kit. You will also find supplemental materials such as an overview of the history of the western fur trade, lesson plans to use with the kit, discussion questions, a song list of the music on the cassette tape, board game instructions, and a bibliography for teachers and students.

2. Artifacts – You will find a set of artifacts seated in foam in this kit. They are

described in detail further in this booklet.

3. Photo Packet – In the photo packet, Flash!, you will find eleven images of artifacts,

mountain men, and much more.

4. CD – Containing photos and descriptions of the artifacts, as well as copies of the

photos provided in the photo packet, and any photos, graphics or handouts included in the teacher lesson plans.

5. Video – The video, “Facing the Wilderness: Mountain Men of the Rockies”, is

approximately 12 minutes in length, and is accompanied by a cassette tape. A page of vocabulary words and discussion questions follows in this booklet.

6. Audio Tape – To add another dimension to the kit, we have included a cassette tape

with mountain man storytelling on one side. The other side contains typical American music of the early 1800’s to depict the life the trappers left behind in the East, and American Indian music to show the sounds they heard in the West. A more detailed description of the music follows in this booklet.

7. Board Game – A game called “See You at the Rendezvous!” may be played at any

time during the study of the fur trade, but serves especially well as a culminating activity, since it reinforces much of what appears elsewhere in the kit.

8. This Kit and the State Standards – To learn what Colorado Educational standards


A Brief History of the Fur Trade

The mountain man and his part in western history has been shaded in myth. The image of the lone trapper taking his leave of “civilization” and daringly plunging into the wilderness to meet grizzly bears, harsh winters, mountain lions, and American Indians has sparked the imaginations of millions. Stripped of its romanticism, the fur trade was a hard business, and its labor force was as overworked, underpaid, and subject to hardships as any other nineteenth century occupation. Bent over by the strains of their livelihood, few trappers remained in the business past the age of forty.

The commerce for American furs and hides, including deer, otter, raccoon, muskrat, mink, wolf, fox, and beaver, lured Europeans to the Americas from the beginning. For the French in Canada to the English and Dutch in New York, the trade for furs was a driving force for relations between European and American Indians well into the colonial period and beyond. The fur trade also attracted a cosmopolitan mix of ethnic and cultural groups— French-Canadian, American Indian, African American, Hispanic, British, Irish, German, and Russian trappers and traders all worked side by side with Missourians, Ohioans,

Pennsylvanians, and Virginians.

The peak of the Rocky Mountain fur trade ran for a very short period of time, from 1820 to 1840. This was the time that Americans became more interested in the politics and geography beyond the Mississippi River; it was a time of expansion and experimentation. Thomas Jefferson’s vision of an expanding republic sent Lewis and Clark on their

exploration of the Far West to discover any resources that could be used to expand America’s economic base. Returning from their explorations, the captains encountered trapping brigades traveling along their back trail. Fur traders such as Manuel Lisa, Pierre and August Chouteau, and William Henry Ashley established strong mercantile traditions in towns such as St. Louis, Westport, and Independence, Missouri. This in turn led to the westward expansion of emigration, goods, and towns.

There were two overlapping production systems used in the western fur trade of the 1820s–1840s. One system was the Rocky Mountain Trapping System based on beaver pelts and a primary work force of European-American trappers, who met at a designated

rendezvous each summer to exchange their pelts for supplies needed for the next trapping season. The second system was based on the Upper Missouri Fur Trade, utilizing bison robes as a main product, and employing a labor force of American Indians to gather and process the robes. The robes were then exchanged at one of the numerous trading posts established on the Missouri River and moved to St. Louis by water transportation. A variation of the Upper Missouri River system took place in Colorado on the Arkansas and South Platte rivers. Rival trading firms such as Bent, St. Vrain, and Company; Vasquez and Sublette; and the American Fur Trading Company built competing forts to lure away the commerce of the Cheyennes and Arapahos.

Of those who decided to enter the fur trade business, many failed in their attempts to garner profits. However, those with enough experience, ability, and luck were often able to make a decent living. It must be kept in mind that this was a hardscrabble business. Acquiring furs and transporting them to eastern markets presented a logistical nightmare. Moving pack trains of supplies into the mountains, and returning with bales of furs, was an incredible task. The thousand-mile trek through inhospitable western plains, rugged mountain passes, and lands claimed by occasionally unfriendly American Indians often invited tragedy.

Another important economic dynamic of the fur trade was the depletion of the beaver which resulted from overharvesting. It has long been a tradition to view the


environment as if resources were unlimited, and many business-minded merchants and trappers were determined to extract any resource that was easily exploitable. This attitude of short-term exploitation flourished during the fur trade and persisted after 1840, as the focus shifted from furs to minerals, timber, grass, land, and water. Overtrapping led to the virtual extermination of the beavers; their exhaustion and the simultaneous decline in the popularity of beaver fur hats, replaced by fashionable silk ones, brought an end to an era.

As they gathered furs, the trappers worked hand-in-hand, and sometimes competed, with American Indian tribes who had their own cultural traditions and distinct points of view. On the western plains and Rocky Mountains, the two very different cultures

exchanged trade goods, but also ideas. As they came together in this wilderness, each culture would have to adapt to the other’s presence.

These two very different cultural legacies collided on the western frontier. Yet each accepted innovations from the other which suited their needs. The traders adopted

American Indian foods, clothing, language, and geographic knowledge. Trappers and traders frequently took native wives, both to secure a helpmate and to solidify trading relations with specific tribes. The American Indians, in turn, welcomed manufactured trade goods such as iron awls and pots, beads, guns, and knives. Plains Indians expanded their production of bison robes to meet the new demands. In the long run, the exchange of robes for

manufactured goods created a one-sided trade relationship. Many American Indians became dependent upon European-American trade goods, while others fought with each other for control of the hunting grounds. The effects of disease introduced by the European Americans seriously strained their social and cultural traditions. The strains created by the fur trade sometimes led to brief but violent conflict. Yet the traders and American Indians who exchanged goods and ideas had to meet on peaceful terms in order for the process to take place.

The fur trade and the knowledge exchanged between these two cultures would also lead to further settlement of the West. By the end of the fur trade era, the American

population was ready to move west in search of new opportunities. Due to the fur trade, the migrating pioneers ventured into a landscape that was well charted, and one about which a great deal was known. Military explorers and settlers alike hired retired trappers and traders to guide them to their Western destinations. One of the major achievements of the fur trade was the conversion of the trapper’s geographic knowledge, much of which was learned from various American Indian tribes, onto maps. In this sense, the trappers and traders of the 1820s and 1830s represented the vanguard of the great western migrations of the 1840s and beyond.


Artifact Description and Photographs

The descriptions that follow are meant to provide you with more information about the objects found in the Mountain Man case. The photographs of the artifacts may not match the actual artifacts found in your case. The photos are included to help you identify which artifact is being described.

Leather pouch with quillwork design

Porcupine quill embroidery was highly developed among many of the Plains Indian tribes that the trappers and traders encountered as they moved westward across the continent. This art form was a reflection of how the American Indians used their surrounding environment for ceremonial, spiritual, and everyday purposes. They often decorated clothing, pipe bags, tipis, and horse gear with various designs and symbols made of flattened and dyed quills.

Trade beads

Venetian glass trade beads came in a myriad of colors, styles, and sizes, and for centuries had been used by Europeans for many purposes, from ornamentation to money. When glass trade beads reached the American continent, their polish and luster made them favorites among the Native Americans, preferred above beads of shells, bone, stone, and clay. They learned to replace quillwork with beads, while continuing to hold on to the geometric designs and forms that expressed their cultural backgrounds. Chevron beads, bugle beads, seed beads, and pigeon beads were but a few of the most popular, and they fell in and out of fashion over time.



A trapper’s iron awl was indispensable for sewing garments, cleaning his rifle, or trading with the American Indian tribes who used awls for much their daily sewing or lacing. Awls were mostly used to punch holes in leather so that it could be sewn together. Awls were shipped by the manufacturer to St. Louis and were distributed by traders without handles. A shaped and smoothed piece of deer antler was usually affixed by the owner for easier handling.

Ball bag

This specialized little hard leather bag added to the efficiency of loading and firing a rifle. Lead balls could be located and loaded when needed.

Flints and Steel

Also known as “fire steels”, these objects were of prime importance in the

American Indian trade. Although they were very inexpensive, they represented an important technological innovation over traditional fire-making techniques. Trappers working in the wilderness also found this tool to be extremely valuable. A slicing blow with the shaped steel against a small piece of flint caused sparks to fly and gave life to fire.


One of the trapper’s most essential tools, the knife helped him kill and skin animals for food and for their pelts. The logo of J. Russell and Co./Green River Works of Massachusetts, stamped on the blade of many a mountain man’s knife, became an icon of the western fur trade. There was something very personal about a trapper’s favorite knife, and he often named it or endowed it with a personality. An attachment like this makes sense when one considers the importance of such a tool in the wilderness.



Hand-forged, iron ax heads were of great importance to Americans conquering the wilderness. Essential for felling trees to use as firewood and shelter, as well as a valuable weapon, this was a heavily traded item. A blacksmith would make a trade ax by taking a single, elongated flat plate of iron and hammering out one end while hot. He would then wrap the piece of iron around a pattern to form the eye of the ax for the wooden handle. The blade was then ground to sharpness.

Trade cloth

The Rocky Mountain fur trade era coincided with America’s first industrial revolution—which centered on the expansion of steam operated textile mills. Trappers working in an unpredictable and harsh wilderness mostly used inexpensive wool cloth to fashion work shirts and other clothing. American Indian tribes valued cloth for clothing and blankets.

Possibles Bag

A very important piece of the trapper’s gear, the possibles bag was used for the storage of any number of items, from flints and steels, to the castoreum box, awls, and other tools used in daily trapping life.


Trade Silver

European trade silver pieces entered North America over one hundred years before the Rocky Mountain fur trade began. First bought by early traders and missionaries, silver work soon attracted the eyes of many Native Americans. Perhaps exchanged between the two cultures as a sign of friendship, American Indians soon demanded silver pieces as part of the trading process. Silversmiths in Europe and the United States quickly hammered out bar silver to create pieces to supply native demands. As time went on, Native Americans began requesting specific silver ornaments that signified culturally-specific ideas. Brooches or crosses might symbolize bravery, or a display of wealth, or perhaps, authority, but they did not necessarily mean to the American Indians what they meant to Euro-Americans. A Jesuit style cross of Lorraine, for instance, did not necessarily have Christian religious significance to Native Americans. Many of the silver pieces in animal shapes, such as beavers, turtles, fishes, and foxes, became symbols used by American Indians to reflect their respect for the animals they hunted.

Powder horn and Powder Measure

Slung by a strap across his shoulder, the mountain man’s powder horn was another essential piece of his gear. It was often made from a steer horn, but even more frequently of a smaller, black, bison horn. The powder horn was a handy way to keep gunpowder dry, and the powder measure made sure that just the right amount was used.

Tin Cup

While it wasn’t critical that a trapper have a tin cup, it certainly came in handy for drinking coffee or tea or when another container was needed.



Not every trapper owned a pipe, but clay pipes such as this one were cheap and popular at the time. Traders transported hundreds of the fragile pipes to

rendezvous in barrels packed with sawdust. Tobacco represented a small luxury in otherwise harsh conditions and was also a popular trade item with American Indians.


This reproduction 1830’s deck of cards looks much like the playing cards that would have been used by the mountain men. Since they were small and easy to carry, cards were carried by many of the trappers to help pass the time of day and to enjoy with their companions.


Castoreum, a substance from a gland near the base of the beaver’s tail, was used by the trapper as bait. It was smeared on a willow switch that he placed by the trap, and although the scent in open air was not discernable to humans, it was recognizable by the beaver at a distance.

Beaver Pelt (Beaver Plew)

This beaver pelt is only a partial beaver skin. You might notice that there are two lengths of fur on the pelt. The longer more course hair was removed by the hat-maker or hatter to reveal the shorter-softer fur. The hat-maker used mercury in the procedure to remove the longer hair and during the process the mercury was absorbed into the hatter’s hands. Enough exposure to mercury very often made hat-makers go “mad” hence we get the term “mad as a hatter” and the character of the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland.


Are You on the Right Track?

Standards: History: 4.1

Reading & Writing: 1; 2; 3; 4 Science 1; 3

Materials: A copy of this card


Objective: To understand why animals have differently shaped feet and why it is important

for their survival.

Information relevant to the Fur Trade:

In order to survive trappers had to know what footprint or track belonged to which animal. Know which animal each track belonged to was important to the Mountain Man successfully trapping beaver for trade and for him to find his next meal. The trapper didn’t want to go hunting a deer only to find out it’s a bear!

During the Fur Trade there were no grocery stores or mercantile stores in the west. The forts were not close by nor were there very many of them. When their supplies from the rendezvous ran out, the only food and drink they consumed was what they could find for themselves. They sometimes ate the beavers they trapped and killed if they were desperate for food, but they claimed that the only part that was any good was his tail which they would boil.

For the trapper, there were times of plenty and times of near starvation depending on how close they were to buffalo and other animals. Most mountain men loved the taste of buffalo meat and fat and feasted to their heart’s content when one was killed. The “hump ribs,” or the shoulder meat, was especially well liked, but they also hungrily eyed the bone marrow, intestines, and liver which they liked to eat raw. Another delicacy for the trapper was the buffalo tongue. This was also well liked by the people in the East, and thousands of tongues each year were packed in salt to keep them fresh, and sent back to the large cities.

If they were getting ready to travel a long way through an area with little game, the mountain men would cut meat into thin slices and dry them in the sun to preserve them. They called this “mekkin’ meat;” we know it as jerky. Another way to preserve meat was to make pemmican out of it. Pemmican is dried meat that is pounded into a powder, mixed with hot fat and dried fruits or berries that were pressed into a loaf or small cakes. The Mountain Men learned to make pemmican from the Native Americans they traded with.

There were times, though, when the trappers ran out of food or drink, and they had to make do with anything they could put their hands on. It sometimes got so bad that they would eat their dogs, moccasins, or anything else made of leather, or even the ears of their mules!

Very rarely, trappers were lucky enough to be near a fort that Indians such as the Mandan and Arikara were supplying with corn, beans, and squash. Indians would come to the fort and exchange their corn, one bushel equaling a dollar’s worth of goods. Fort Union even had a small garden of its own, where they raised garden peas, radishes, potatoes, beets, and turnips.

Procedure: One of the skills of the mountain man found most necessary was his ability to

identify different animal tracks. This helped him in tracking animals when hunting and collecting furs, and in avoiding the more dangerous animals. Drawn below are footprints of several different animals that a trapper might run across.

1. Using the animal prints below, have students speculate as to why the animals have different shaped feet.


2. In small groups, have students research why the animals feet are shaped differently.

3. Finally have the students report back to the rest of the class as to why the shape foot helps that animal survive.

i.e.: Sharp claws for predators. Webbed feet for swimmers, etc.


Lupton’s Letter

Standards: Geography: 1.1; 1.2; 1.3; 4.3; 6.1

History: 2.1; 2.2; 2.3; 4.2; 4.3 Mathematics: 5; 6

Reading &Writing: 1; 2; 3; 4; 5; 6

Materials: pencil/pen, copies of Lupton’s Letter, map of Colorado, map of U.S.

Objective: Students analyze a primary historical source, create and justify a response, and

use maps to trace the journey of the document.

Information relevant to the Fur Trade:

By the time forts started to spring up in the West, it was clear that the white man had more on his mind than just passing through the area. Now he was showing that he meant to stay. He was willing to work hard and defend himself and his rights to trade behind the walls of his fort.

In the early 1830’s, beavers were just starting to become harder to find, and the trade of buffalo robes was beginning to pick up. At the same time, the forts were replacing the rendezvous as the most important places to trade. For one thing, the fort was open all year round, and it was always in the same place, so it was easy to find by all. In addition, the heavy, bulky buffalo robes were easier to manage at the forts than at the rendezvous.

The Indians’ importance in the fur trade was growing, too, because it was the Indians who traded most of the buffalo skins, not the trappers. They didn’t bring in as many as they could kill, but only as many as the Indian women could tan. Thirty hides per year was a lot for one woman to prepare.

Fort after fort began to appear in the mountain and plains area, among them some names you may recognize: Fort Lupton, Fort Union, Fort Vasquez, Fort Hall, Fort St. Vrain, and Bent’s Fort. Many tribes would arrive at the posts eager to trade their buffalo robes for beads, awls, looking glasses, tobacco, knives, guns,

ammunition, combs, battleaxes, and other things. The traders at the forts made a huge profit, as you might expect, because they traded items of little worth for the robes which they could sell for much more money. Of course, Indians profited too—trading plentiful buffalo robes for hard-to-acquire manufactured goods.

In 1833, Charles and William Bent and Ceran St. Vrain, with the consultation of Chief Yellow Wolf, a Southern Cheyenne Indian, chose the site for their trading post, 150 miles north of Taos, on the Santa Fe Trail, just north of the Arkansas River. The Arkansas River was the border between the US and Mexico. Bent’s Fort is near what is known today as La Junta, Colorado. It was also near a Cheyenne winter camp site, which was good from Yellow Wolf’s point of view since his people were eager for trade goods.

When it was finished, Bent’s Fort was the largest of all the forts in the mountain-plains region. There were twenty-six apartments at the post, all built around a central plaza, or “placita,” where dances were held, and where the fur presses were located. There was a large dining room for guests, complete with china, silver, and white tablecloths. The fort even boasted a billiards room. Outside the fort were an ice house, a trash dump, a burial ground, and a racetrack.

The partners split up responsibilities for keeping the post operational. Charles Bent managed the company’s business in St. Louis and supervised caravans as they traveled down the Santa Fe Trail. Ceran St. Vrain ran the company’s stores in New Mexico, while William Bent proved to have the most skill at dealing with their Plains Indian customers. Bent married Owl Woman, the daughter of a Southern


Cheyenne spiritual leader. For sixteen years, William ran the fort and oversaw all the employees and the business transactions.

From the watchtower over the main gate, it was easy to see who was approaching the fort. Some of the tribes that came to trade were the Arapaho, Cheyenne, Kiowa, Pawnee, Apache, and Ute. Scholars, explorers, writers, artists, engineers, drovers, and of course, mountain men also visted the fort. Kit Carson once worked as a hunter for the fort, and other visitors included John C. Frémont, Francis Parkman, diarist Susan Shelby Macgoffin, Jim Beckwourth, Thomas Fitzpatrick, Jim Baker, Jim Bridger, and “Uncle Dick” Wooten.

The fort was not only a place for trade, but was also a place to dance, refit, and socialize after a long journey on the Santa Fe Trail.

Procedure: Lancaster P. Lupton wrote a letter asking the President of the United

States for an appointment as an Indian Agent on the West Coast. Lupton was a former soldier and western fur trader who established a trading post named after himself (Ft. Lupton) near the South Platte River in Colorado. Despite his military experience, Lupton did not receive the appointment. In 1847, he moved to Hardscrabble, Colorado, near Pueblo, where he started a farm. He had previously married a Cheyenne woman, and together they had eight children. During the Gold Rush of 1849, Lupton moved to California to test his luck at mining. He settled in California and died there in 1885.

1. Read the letter written by Lupton. If you are unable to read his handwriting, look at the typed transcript of the letter. In the letter he is asking the President of the United States for a military appointment on the West Coast.

2. Have the students do some quick research and find out who the President of the United States was at the time that the letter was written.

3. While the students are pretending to be the President, have them write a return letter to Lupton explaining why not or why they are appointing him as an Indian Agent.

4. Have the students research which American Indian tribes Lupton could have been assigned to work with in California in 1846 had he received the assignment? 5. On a map of Colorado, have students locate Ft. Lupton. Explain that

communication was very slow and tedious process in the United States, and the rest of the world, in 1846. Because the mail was sent via wagon train which covered 10-15 miles per day, how long would Lupton’s letter have taken to get to Washington D.C.?

a. The distance from Ft. Lupton to Washington D.C. is approximately 1,670 miles. (Use Ft. Lupton even though the letter was sent from Bent’s Fort)

6. On a map of the U.S. have students decide what trail the letter probably took on its journey to the capital city.


Transcript of letter dated 1846 From Lancaster Lupton to The President of the United States

Bent’s Fort Arkansas [River] November 8th, 1846

To the President of the U.S.

Sir, I respectfully request that I may be appointed Indian Agent at some of the agencies that will probably be formed in Oregon or California.

In making this request it is proper to state the grounds upon which I hope my application may meet with success – while in the U.S. Army I had many opportunities of becoming acquainted with Indian character at Forts Towson, Gibson, and Leavenworth. Since I left the Army in 1836 I have spent the greater part of my time in the vicinity of the Rocky Mountains, almost constantly in communication with the different tribes of Indians in that region.

Educated as I was for the Army, and having served many years on the extreme western frontier I of course have no profession – the energies of my youth and early manhood – the time usually spent by others in learning how to live – have been devoted to the service of my Country. I do not ask for the office for the sake of office. I ask as a means of existence.

The accompanying testimonials were proven with a view of having restored to the Army but I deem them equally applicable in the present instance, as they fully show, who I am, what my qualifications are and what my former services have been.

I have the honor to be his

Very Respectfully Your Able Servant L. P. Lupton


Working Like a Beaver

Standards: History: 2.3

Reading & Writing: 1; 4; 5 Science: 3

Materials: Drawing paper; colored pencils/markers; internet access

Objective: Students will understand important aspects of the beaver’s life cycle. Information relevant to the Fur Trade:

Just what was this little animal like that the mountain men chased all over the mountains year after year? The word “beaver” itself comes from an ancient Sanskrit word meaning “big” and “brown.” And they were big at one time, or at least their ancestors were. A million years ago, they were giant six-foot-long, dam-building animals that could weigh 700 pounds!

Today, beavers measure about four feet from nose to tip of tail, and they weigh from 30 to 50 pounds. In the wild, they normally live about twelve years, but tame ones have stayed alive as long as nineteen years. One of the most curious things about beavers is that they keep growing all of their lives!

Beavers live in colonies made up of six to twelve family members, and the whole family joins together to build and repair their dams. The only reason they even build dams is to flood an area with trees nearby so that they can stay in the water and still swim to their favorite food, tree bark. Beavers are built for cutting down trees. They have front paws that can dig and grip, a flat tail that helps prop them up as they eat, and three inch long chisel-like incisor teeth, two on the top and three on the bottom to cut through wood.

After felling a tree, the beaver must then cut it into lengths that are not too heavy to haul by his teeth through the water to his dam. Luckily, the beaver has lips that close tightly behind

Beavers build lodges in their dams to live in. They pile limbs and twigs on top to make a solid pile of brush from five to seven feet tall. Then, they swim up through an underwater tunnel and eat their way into their cozy home. They also make a hole in the top to let in fresh air. Later, they cover the outside with a thick layer of mud, and when it freezes, it gets very hard.

his teeth so that he doesn’t drown as he tows the logs. He also has transparent eyelids and flaps of skin to seal off his nose and ears when he’s under water. He uses his webbed hind feet to push himself through the water at about five miles per hour, and he has extra-large lungs and liver that allows him to stay under water for fifteen minutes.

Beavers usually have litters of two to six kits sometime between March and June. The kits weigh less then a pound at birth, and they are so at home in the water that they may follow their mothers into a lake or stream before their first day is over! By the time the kits are two years old, the parents are normally ready to have a second litter, so they run off the two year olds to make room for new babies.

As the young beavers leave home, they try to attract mates so that they can start colonies of their own. They scoop up small piles of earth and then leave a few drops of oil, called castoreum, on them. Castoreum is made in two small oil glands near the beaver’s tail. When other beaver come across the scent, they can tell whether it made by a male or female, and which direction the beaver passed. Once they find mates, they keep the same ones for life.

A normal colony of beavers cuts down over 1,000 trees per year. They eat what they need and then use the rest of wood to build their dams and lodges. When they have taken care of all the trees in one area, they move off to find a new home.



1. Have students fold a large sheet of drawing paper in half, and on the front page write the title “The Life and Times of the Beaver.” Students may decorate the title page any way they wish.

2. Instructor will read or have students read aloud the information “A Beaver’s Life” included at the end of this lesson plan.

3. Have students find pictures of beavers online or in the library. - Students should have a picture of each of the following:

-A prehistoric ancestor of the beaver next to a modern-day beaver. - A beaver colony eating bark, cutting down trees, dragging them to the water, or building a dam.

- A beaver lodge.

- A mother beaver taking her kits for a swim.

4. Have the students paste/tape the pictures they have found on to the two inside pages of “The Life and Times of the Beaver”.

5. On the back page have the students write the question and answers (are in the information from “A Beaver’s Life”) to the following questions:

A. Being a beaver, I eat lots of…?

B. My beaver ancestors could weigh up to this many pounds? C. My paws are good for digging, my teeth can cut through the

toughest wood, but I use my tail for…?

D. These two organs are very large in me and that allows me to stay under water for 15 minutes, what are those two organs? E. During the winter I’m not very busy and I usually stay in my…? F. When we have kits (or babies) there are how many in a litter? G. The oil I leave on the ground to attract a mate is called…? H. When my whole colony works its hardest, we can cut down

more than this number of trees per year…

For your quick reference here are the answers for the above questions: A. bark

B. 700 lbs.

C. Help prop me up as I eat and to slap on the water to alert others when I sense danger

D. Lungs and liver E. Lodge

F. One to five G. Castoreum


The States of the Union

Standards: Economics: 1.1

Geography: 1.1; 1.2; 1.3; 2.2; 4.1; 4.4; 4.5; 6.1 History: 1.1; 1.2; 1.3; 3.1; 3.2; 4.2

Reading & Writing: 1; 4; 5

Materials: Crayons, markers, or colored pencils; regular pen/pencil; copies of U.S. map;

access to the Internet or resources in the library

Objective: Students will understand how and why the United States territory grew during

the 1800’s and how the Fur Trade had an effect on growth.

Information relevant to the Fur Trade:

Exploring a land that few of their countrymen had dared enter before them, the mountain men and the tales of their adventures quickly became a source of wonder in the east. Only small bits of news about the West had trickled through to Americans before the trappers arrived, so they still imagined it to be a dark,

forbidding country.

Lewis and Clark had seen parts of the West when they made their expedition to the Oregon area in the first years of the 1800’s, and they described it as decidedly uninviting. Zebulon Pike followed in 1810, calling the land a desert; and in 1823, Major Stephen Long also traveled through the area and claimed that it was not a place for “civilized” men to live. Soon, the West became known as “The Great American Desert” – hardly a name that would make anyone want to move there.

Thanks to the trappers, though, the truth came out. They were the first group of European Americans to explore the whole area and to describe both its harshness and future promise. They marked out routes of travel into this vast area along older Indian trails, and it would be the trappers who would eventually guide the U.S. military into New Mexico and the Rocky Mountains.

Later still, it would be their job to escort early wagon trains to Oregon and California, and to guide government exploring parties through the West, not only showing them where to go, but also helping them negotiate with the Indians. Because the mountain men dared to explore this land and tell about its wonders, more and more people were feeling an urge to see it for themselves, and it wouldn’t be long before the rush was on.

In the early years of the 1800s, there were two different points of view in the East about moving the nation westward. To some people, such as Thomas Jefferson, there was no question that the United States should expand. They were very much in favor of the fur trade since they understood that this was the first way to explore the new area. They had also supported the Lewis and Clark expedition and were eager to learn more about their discoveries.

For others, there was a concern about adding more new states to the Union. They pointed to Zebulon Pike’s 1810 report which described the West as a desert and an uninviting place to live, and they said we were better off developing trade across the Atlantic. But whatever their views, it would have been almost impossible to hold the country back. There was an overall urge to move ever westward—for new opportunities and to explore the unknown.

The United States government at first tried to strictly regulate the fur trade. Between 1796 and 1822, legal trade with Indians took place at

government-sanctioned “factories,” in part to prevent the exploitation of Indians by unscrupulous traders. As the years passed, private fur companies became very successful. Much of the profits poured into New York City, where John Jacob Astor dominated the western fur market, and St. Louis.


The fur trade helped extend American territorial claims to the rest of the continent. In 1818, the United States and Great Britain agreed on a boundary with Canada. They also agreed to jointly occupy Oregon Territory. The United States used the fur trade as one means of keeping the British economic interests out of the American West. Congress voted to limit the Indian trade to American citizens only. The British would have to leave the fur business in the American West to the United States.

Procedure: The western half of the United States was explored and mapped partly because

of the fur trade. The maps created by mountain men and the U.S. Army made it easier for settlers to move to the western territories. Once a territory had a

population of 60,000 or more its citizens could apply for statehood. People moved west for many reasons but one of the most popular was Manifest Destiny, the belief that the United States had the right and the duty to occupy all of North America and to spread democracy. The fur trade ended in 1840 and by 1848 the country had moved as far west as the Pacific Ocean.

1. Have students research when each state entered the Union.

2. On the map provided have students fill in the name of each state and the year that each one was admitted to the Union.

3. Using a yellow crayon, marker or colored pencil, have students color in the states that joined the Union before the start of the western fur trade, 1787–1819. 4. Have students use orange to color the states that were admitted during and a

little after the fur trade, 1820-1850.

5. The states that joined the union after 1850 should be colored in red.

6. Now that the map is colored in have students discuss the pattern of settlement. a. For example: Why did California become a state before Colorado? Why

were people moving west? Why didn’t they stay in the East? Etc.

Teacher Quick


1. Delaware – 1787 2. Pennsylvania – 1787 3. New Jersey – 1787 4. Georgia – 1788 5. Connecticut – 1788 6. Massachusetts – 1788 7. Maryland – 1788 8. South Carolina – 1788 9. New Hampshire – 1788 10. Virginia – 1788 11. New York – 1788 12. North Carolina – 1789 13. Rhode Island – 1790 14. Vermont – 1791 15. Kentucky – 1792 16. Tennessee – 1796 17. Ohio – 1803 18. Louisiana – 1812 19. Indiana – 1816 20. Mississippi – 1817 21. Illinois - 1818 22. Alabama – 1819 23. Maine – 1820 24. Missouri – 1821 25. Arkansas – 1836 26. Michigan – 1837 27. Florida – 1845 28. Texas – 1845 29. Iowa – 1846 30. Wisconsin – 1848 31. California – 1850 32. Minnesota – 1858 33. Oregon – 1859 34. Kansas – 1861 35. West Virginia – 1863 36. Nevada – 1864 37. Nebraska – 1867 38. Colorado – 1876 39. North Dakota – 1889 40. South Dakota – 1889 41. Montana – 1889 42. Washington – 1889 43. Idaho – 1890 44. Wyoming – 1890 45. Utah – 1896 46. Oklahoma – 1907 47. New Mexico – 1912 48. Arizona -1912 49. Alaska - 1959 50. Hawaii - 1959


To Trap or Not To Trap

Standards: Economics: 1.1; 1.2; 1.3; 2.1; 2.2; 3.1

History: 1.3; 2.3; 3.1; 4.2; 4.3 Reading & Writing: 1; 2; 3; 4; 5 Science: 4

Materials: Access to internet or library resources; pencils/pens; writing paper; copies of

“Journey of a Pelt” worksheet

Objective: Students will understand the effects of the trapping industry on the environment. Information relevant to the Fur Trade:

Many trappers found that if they joined together to form fur trade companies, they could make more money than they could on their own. The companies had a big effect on the fur trade in many ways. It was one company’s idea to have the rendezvous instead of forts for trading. Another company helped to drive foreign fur trade competition from the United States. Listed below are some of the major fur companies of the Rocky Mountain area:

Missouri Fur Company In 1807, Manuel Lisa led the first U.S. trapping expedition up the Missouri River. He found the areas so rich in beaver that only five years later he and the prominent Chouteau family from St. Louis set up the Missouri Fur Company. The company made a profit, but it didn’t do as well as many as many of the others.

American Fur Company Started in 1808 by John Jacob Astor, this company

controlled the Great Lakes trade and then expanded to the Oregon area where Astor opened a new post, called Astoria. Astor became quite wealthy from the fur trade. He competed fiercely with the British companies such as the Hudson’s Bay Co., and finally convinced the U.S. Congress to pass an act saying that foreign fur companies could no longer trap in the United States.

Rocky Mountain Fur Company

By the 1830s there were rumors that there was a lot of money to be made in the fur trade. Company after company was formed, but most were not well run, and they either fell apart or were taken over by the large, successful businesses.

William H. Ashley started this company in 1822 when its first expedition left St. Louis and spent two years gathering beaver pelts. Many trappers whose names you might recognize worked for this company: Jim Bridger, Hugh Glass, Jedediah Smith, and William Sublette. Four years later, Ashley decided to sell the company to Jedediah Smith, William Sublette, and David Jackson, and they did well with it, though not as well as Ashley.

St. Louis was the major collecting point for the furs trapped west of the Missouri River. From here, they were sent to New York by one of three ways:

1) By steamboat to New Orleans and then by sea to New York.

2) By steamboat up the Ohio River to Pittsburgh and then by barge on the Pennsylvania Canal to the coast.

3) Up the Ohio River to Buffalo by the Ohio Canal and then on to the Erie Canal to New York.

The Rocky Mountain area started being trapped in the 1820s, but by the end of the 1830s there weren’t many beaver left. Virtually every river valley had been explored and it wasn’t uncommon for one company to bring in as many as sixty beavers in one morning. There was no way for the beavers to reproduce quickly enough to make up for such a loss in their numbers. In just twenty years, the trappers had killed almost all of them.

Just as fate would have it, though, at the same time the beaver supply ran out, the fashion in hats changed, and beaver fur was no longer needed. No one knows for sure just


his beaver top hat while traveling in China. And since there were no beavers available to use to make another hat, he had it made of silk, instead. When he got back home, the silk hat became the rage, and everyone wanted one of those instead of the old beaver type. The new silk hat brought the fur trade to an end.


1. Instructor will divide the class into thirds. One-third will be trappers in the 1830s. The second third will be environmentalists from the present. And the last third of the class will serve as judges for the debate.

2. The environmentalists and the trappers will debate the following topic: Should trapping be banned in the United States?

3. Each team will have one class period to research their point of view, and to plan their strategies for the debate. The last third who will be the judges will work on the “Journey of a Pelt” worksheet on the next page.

a. Don’t forget to let the students (especially the trappers) know that they want to point out the benefits that come from their point of view.

4. During the next class period the two groups of students will debate the issue. The instructor will act as mediator during the debate.

6. The final third of the class will come to a decision based on the strength of the debaters’ arguments; they will have a full class period to come to their decision. While they are deciding the other two-thirds of the class will work on the “Journey of a Pelt” worksheet. Once they have reached their conclusions they will defend

their decision to the rest of the class. The side with the most votes wins! 7. Teacher key to “Journey of a Pelt”: 3, 10, 7, 12, 6, 8, 9, 4, 2, 5, 11, 1






Journey of a Pelt Worksheet

Instructions: Listed below are all the steps that take place in trapping a beaver, from the mountain man just beginning his journey, to the products made from the fur. The steps below are not in the correct order, so read through them carefully, and re-number them in the correct order from first to last. (Hint: the first step is number 3)

1. _____ The top hat purchased for his uncle is given back to the nephew for sentimental reasons when the uncle passes away. The year is 1848, and the nephew who now trades silk hats remembers when beaver hats were in fashion.

2. _____ Hundreds of bundles of beaver and buffalo skins, along with salted buffalo tongues, arrive on schedule in St. Louis. Busy merchants prepare to ship them to New York for profits.

3. __1__ A trapper leaves his job as a St. Louis blacksmith to go west with a party of Rocky Mountain Fur Company employees. He will try his luck in the American fur trade.

4. _____ The pelts are pressed flat and then bundled for shipping down the Missouri River on the steamboat Yellowstone.

5. _____ The pelts make their long journey from the St. Louis merchants to New York “haberdashers” where hat makers clean the fur and make felt from it.

6. _____ The beaver pelts are skinned and cleaned by the trapper with a Green River knife. 7. _____ The trapper takes six traps down to a slower branch of the Green River and baits

aspen sticks with castoreum scent.

8. _____ The beaver skins are stretched and tied with willow hoops for curing.

9. _____ The trapper trades his cured pelts at Fort Union for two Green River knives, one axe, a pound of coffee, and a pint of watered-down whiskey.

10. _____ The trapper mixes up his own special recipe of castoreum and stores it in a small wooden box he bought in St. Louis.

11. _____ Beaver “toppers” are shipped to the coast of France where a merchant buys one of the finest for his favorite uncle.

12. _____ The trapper returns to the stream to check the traps he set yesterday. He is happy to find that four of the six traps have caught beaver.


During My Life

Standards: History: 1.1; 1.2; 2.1

Mathematics: 1; 3; 5; 6 Reading & Writing: 1; 2; 4; 5

Materials: Internet or library access, 8 ½” x 14” paper, colored pencils/markers/crayons,

copies of “During My Life” worksheet, ruler, regular pencil, glue (optional),

Objective: Students will understand the time period during which the mountain man lived

by comparing the life of one mountain man with world events.

Information relevant to the Fur Trade:

Most trappers and traders in the Rocky Mountain area came here from St. Louis, but they were men from very different circumstances. Some were sons of wealthy European or American parents, but most were from poor, illiterate families. Jedediah Smith and Ceran St. Vrain were both successful, but their backgrounds were very different indeed.

Jedediah Strong Smith would know the wilderness from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean and from Mexico to Canada by the end of the fur trade. He would have seen more of the west than Lewis and Clark. But he was not a very well educated man. When he was 15 and growing up in Pennsylvania, a country doctor taught him to read, write, and do math. The doctor even gave him Lewis and Clark’s book which sparked his interest in the West, but that was all the education he had.

Jed was one of twelve children in a poor family, but he had several traits that would help make him a success. He was quiet and modest, courageous, bright, and an energetic leader. He entered the West, an unknown land, with his rifle and the clothes he wore, and he became successful enough to eventually buy the fur company where he started his career.

Ceran St. Vrain, on the other hand, came from a wealthy French family. His

grandfather was a member of the king’s council, and his uncle was the Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana while it was under French rule. After the French revolution in 1789, the St. Vrain family left France and moved to St. Louis, where Ceran’s father, Jacques, lost his money in some bad real estate deals. He got a job running a brewery, but tragedy struck when he was killed in a fire at the brewery. His mother was then left alone to raise her ten children, but she did receive help from Ceran’s uncle.

As a teenager, Ceran worked for Bernard Pratte and Company, which was involved with the fur trade, and by 1825, he was on his first trading venture to the west. As years passed, Ceran’s gracious and polished air earned him respect in Santa Fe as well as in St. Louis. He became a naturalized Mexican citizen, and learned to speak Spanish quite elegantly. He joined forces with the Bent brothers and did very well in the trade business.

By the late 1830’s it was obvious to the mountain men that their days making a living at trapping were coming to an end. The Fur Trade boom had come and gone very quickly, too quickly for some. After only twenty years of active trapping, there were very few beaver left in the mountains, and the call for their fur had almost completely died since the silk top hat became popular. The trappers’ way of life came to an end and many men had to look for new kinds of work.

There were about 600 mountain men in all in the Rocky Mountains between 1825 and 1840. Of these, we know the details of about 230 of them and what jobs they chose when the fur trade ended.

70 became farmers and ranchers.

24 became businessmen of some type or another. 24 went into careers that were tied to the government.

50 moved into a variety of occupations. Some were teachers, miners, carpenters, Indian agents, interpreters, surveyors, post traders and guides.


60 stayed in the mountains to hunt and trap for their own survival.

Very few of the trappers returned to the East; they were too much at home in the wild open spaces of the West. Some chose to be buffalo hunters, other guided wagon trains of pioneers bound for the West Coast, while still other became scouts for the U. S. Army. The times were changing, and the mountain men had to fit in the best they could.


1. Have students choose one of the mountain men listed below. Jim Bridger (1804–1881) William Bent (1809–1869) Jim Beckwourth (1798–1866) Joe Meek (1810–1870) Jim Baker (1818–1898) Kit Carson (1809–1868)

2. Have students research the dates on which the events listed on the next page occurred. 3. Based on the information and dates the students researched have students create a

timeline. Be sure to have the students make the timeline big enough to write on and long enough to include all the events.

- Instructor may also choose to have students draw or paste a picture of the event on the timeline.

4. Next have the students figure the age of the mountain man of their choosing and fill it in next to the event on the time line.

5. Have the students determine how old their mountain man was when he passed away, and have that number at the top right hand side of the paper, along with his name.


Teacher reference for events:

The Civil War begins -1861

The Erie Canal is completed - 1825

Queen Victoria marries Prince Albert in England - 1840 Mark Twain is born - 1835

Bent’s Old Fort is built - 1833 Beethoven dies - 1827

Gold is discovered in California -1849 Thomas Jefferson dies - 1826

Sitting Bull is born - 1831

Florence Nightingale is born - 1820

Davy Crockett is killed at the Alamo - 1836 The First baseball game is played - 1838 Gold is discovered in Colorado - 1859 Colorado becomes a state - 1876 The War of 1812 is fought - 1812–1815

John Quincy Adams becomes President of the United States - 1824

P.T. Barnum, of the Barnum and Bailey Circus, starts his career as a showman - 1835 The first bicycle is built - 1818

The Cherokee are marched from Georgia to Oklahoma along the Trail of Tears - 1838 The first electric clock is built and patented - 1840


Name:__________________ Date:___________________

During My Life

Instructions: Look up the year in which these events occurred and write it down next to the event.

They do not go in order of when they happened, that is for you to figure out! Next, you will figure out the age of your Mountain Man when the event happened.

The Civil War begins. ___________________ Age: _______

The Erie Canal is completed. ______________________ Age: ________

Queen Victoria marries Prince Albert in England. ____________________ Age: _______ Mark Twain is born. _____________________ Age: _______

Bent’s Old Fort is built. _______________________ Age: ________ Beethoven dies. ______________________ Age: ________

Gold is discovered in California. __________________________ Age: ________ Thomas Jefferson dies. _____________________ Age: _______

Sitting Bull is born. _____________________ Age: ________

Florence Nightingale is born. ________________________ Age: ________

Davy Crockett is killed at the Alamo. ___________________________ Age: ________ The First baseball game is played. ________________________ Age: ________

Gold is discovered in Colorado. _____________________ Age: _________ Colorado becomes a state. ______________________ Age: _________

The War of 1812 is fought. ___________________________ Age: _________

John Quincy Adams becomes President of the United States. _____________________ Age: ________

P.T. Barnum, of the Barnum and Bailey Circus, starts his career as a showman. __________ Age: _________ The first bicycle is built. _____________________ Age: _______

The Cherokee are marched from Georgia to Oklahoma along the Trail of Tears. ________ Age: _________ The first electric clock is built and patented. ________________________ Age: ________


Amazing Animals

Standards: Economics: 1.2; 3.1

Geography: 3.1; 3.2; 6.1 History: 2.1; 4.2; 4.3

Reading & Writing: 1; 2; 3; 4; 5 Science: 3; 5

Materials: Internet or library access, poster boards or butcher paper, glue,

markers/crayons/colored pencils

Objective: For students to understand the characteristics of some animal species native to

Colorado and how those species interact with their environment.

Information relevant to the Fur Trade:

We were now, day after day, passing through countless herds of buffalo. I could scarcely form an estimate of the numbers within the range of sight at the same instant, but some idea may be formed of them by mentioning that, one day, passing along a ridge of upland prairie at least thirty miles in length, and from which a view extended about eight miles on each side of a slightly rolling plain, not a patch of grass ten yards square could be seen, so dense was the living mass that covered the country in every direction.” —George

Frederick Ruxton, 1847

By the time the first trappers set out for the Rocky Mountains, nearly all of the buffalo east of the Mississippi had disappeared. But perhaps 60 million North American bison, as they are properly called, still roamed the western plains and river bottoms in 1800—so many that Captain William Clark (of Lewis and Clark fame) reported being delayed for several hours as a herd crossed the Yellowstone River in front of his exploring party.

The American buffalo has been described as “the most important animal on the western plains and prairies.” Buffalo were the backbone of the Plains Indian economy and social life. Indians ate buffalo meat, fashioned tools and weapons out of buffalo bones, and made blankets, clothing, boats, and homes out of buffalo hides. Trappers, who copied the Indians in clothing, living accommodations, and social life, also embraced the buffalo as an essential source of food, clothing, and shelter.

As time went on, European American demand for buffalo parts became an important economy in itself. Eastern demand for buffalo meat and thick winter robes— popular as floor coverings, blankets, wraps, and coats—gave trappers and Plains Indians alike an alternative income when demand for beavers declined. Buffalo tongues became a popular delicacy in fancy eastern restaurants too. American Indians and trappers took advantage of this fad, often killing bison for their tongues alone, especially in the

summertime when robes were not worth harvesting. This wasteful practice did not escape the notice of western artist George Catlin, who reported a case in which some Indians traded 1,400 tongues for a few gallons of whisky.

The increased demand for buffalo parts led to a gradual shift from beaver pelt to buffalo fur production. In 1830, hunters killed about 27,000 buffalo each year; ten years later that number went up to 90,000. By 1835, traders shipped more buffalo robes than beaver pelts to St. Louis every year. Traders bought robes from Indian suppliers for about twenty-five cents’ worth of trade goods, and then sold them for five to six dollars apiece back east.

The extermination of the buffalo accelerated after 1870, when tanners discovered that buffalo hides made fine leather regardless of the season. The extension of western railroads also contributed to the buffalos’ demise. Viewing the vast herds as an impediment to train travel, some railroad companies encouraged passengers to shoot at the animals from trains. Commercial hunters made quick work of the remaining buffalo. Hunters in 1872


slaughtered more than 500,000 on the Southern Plains. The great southern herd was virtually wiped out by 1880.

By 1884, only a single group of wild buffalo remained in the United States, in

Yellowstone National Park, and fewer than 300 remained in the United States and Canada by the beginning of the twentieth century. Due in part to the efforts of cattle ranchers, no friends of bison in earlier times, buffalo began making a comeback. Congress passed the first law to protect buffalo in 1894. In 1913, the U.S. Department of the Treasury coined the popular buffalo head nickel—giving bison a place alongside the bald eagle and the Statue of Liberty as a symbol of America. Thanks in part to these efforts, more than 350,000 bison survive today. About 200,000 live in protected herds managed by the federal or state

governments or Indian tribes. The rest live on commercial ranches that raise the animals for food.


1. Have each student chose one of the animals listed below. Each student should choose a different one; there should not be any repeats. If the instructor would like he or she may cut out the names of the animals and have the students draw a name of an animal out of the hat. There are 30 animals listed. If more are needed please visit to find additional animals.

Mammals Birds

Bighorn Sheep Bald Eagle Arkansas Darter Fish & Reptiles

Bison Brown Creeper Greenback Cutthroat Trout Black Bear Burrowing Owl Razorback Sucker

Elk Canada Goose Boreal Toad

Grizzly Bear Dusky Grouse Painted Turtle

Kit Fox Golden Eagle

Lynx Great Horned Owl

Moose Peregrine Falcon

Mountain Goat Sandhill Crane Mountain Lion Whooping Crane Prairie Dog

Pronghorn Raccoon River Otter White Tail Deer

2. Next each student will research their chosen animal. They will need to find out the following questions about it:

- Does the animal live alone? In small groups or large herds? - What does it eat?

- How long do the young stay with their mothers before going out on their own? - What part of Colorado (or the country) do they live in? Create a map showing

their territory.

- How long do they normally live?

- Do the male and females look different? In what way?

- Would a mountain man have encountered their animal very often?

- Would it have been worth while for the mountain man to trap this species? - Are they an endangered or threatened species?

3. Have the students create a poster of their own design with the information the have researched. They must include all of the questions on their poster.


That’s the Best Invention Since Sliced Bread!

Standards: Economics: 1.2

History: 1.1; 1.2; 1.3; 2.3; 4.1; 4.2 Reading & Writing: 1; 2; 3; 4; 5

Materials: Internet or library access, 24 strips of 8 ½” x 11” paper cut in half length wise,

chalk/white board markers or a long length of butcher paper, markers/crayons/colored pencils

Objective: Students will understand how technology developed over time and how it

affected the community.

Information relevant to the Fur Trade:

The first American trappers actually started working in the northeast part of the country over 200 years before the Rocky Mountain fur trade began! By 1600, the French were swapping small trinkets to the Indians in Canada for beaver, otter, mink, and fox furs. The British soon followed, trading for furs along the St. Lawrence River.

As the number of people in America grew, the further west it spread, and it was almost always the trappers who dared lead the way. Fur traders were busy around the Great Lakes before they moved on to the Mississippi Basin area. By 1800, the trappers had traveled as far west as the Missouri River, and the Rocky Mountain fur trade was just around the corner. Many trappers at this time were excited about Lewis and Clark’s description of the west, and they were eager to set their traps in this new land. While the Fur Traders were the trailblazers into the frontier, it was their countrymen who led the way in technology and inventions.


1. Have students (in groups or individually) look up who invented each of the items below. You may want to assign an invention to a student or a group of inventions to a small group of students.

typewriter -1874 photograph – 1839

straight pin – 1824 phosphorous match - 1836 stage coach – 1835 electric light bulb - 1879 Levi pants/jeans – 1850 safety pin - 1849

lawnmower – 1849 telegraph - 1844 machine gun – 1861 harmonica - 1827 bicycle – 1818 upright piano - 1800 postage stamps with glue baby carriage - 1848 on the back – 1847 chewing gum – 1867 washing machine – 1848 cash register – 1879 phonograph – 1877 zipper – 1841

bathtub (in the U.S.) – 1842 sewing machine – 1846 revolver – 1835

2. After they have done the research, give the students thin strips of paper. Have them write what the invention is, the year it was invented, who invented it, and what it replaced in the past or what replaced it in the future. For example: the typewriter replaced writing documents by hand and was later replaced by the computer.

a. If there is room and time students may decorate the strip of paper.

3. On a chalk or white board or on a long role of butcher paper draw a line for a time line it will begin at 1800 and go until 1900. Make sure you write both end dates on the timeline and for reference for the students in the middle of the timeline mark 1850.


4. Now call on students one at a time and have them attach their invention to the appropriate place on the timeline using tape.

a. Move the inventions as necessary to fit them all on the timeline in the right spot. 5. Next highlight the time frame for fur trade (1820-1840).

6. Have students imagine they are a mountain man, ask them to pick one item that was invented after the fur trade (1840). Have them write a short story as to how the mountain man’s life would have improved if had been invented during his time. 7. Follow up by having the students read their stories aloud to the class or to a partner.


The Price Is Right!

Standards: Economics: 1.2; 3.1; 3.2

History: 4.1; 4.2; 4.3 Mathematics: 1, 3, 6 Reading & Writing: 1; 4

Materials: Scratch paper, pencils, timer

Objectives: Students will understand the exchange of goods between trappers and traders

by solving mathematical problems.

Information relevant to the Fur Trade:

When a trapper got ready to head up to the mountains for another season of work, he wanted to make sure that he had all the supplies he would need for the year before setting out. He was most likely to buy his supplies from a trading fort or from petty traders he might run into. The following is a list of all the items he would need:

2–3 horses or mules - one to saddle, the others to carry equipment and pelts 6 traps - carried in a leather bag called a “trap-sack”

1 rifle and enough ammunition to last two years A hatchet - to carry on the pommel of your saddle

A saddle, bridle, and several apishamores - square pieces of buffalo robes to use as saddle blankets

A whetstone in a sheath of buffalo hide pistols

bullet pouch to carry steel balls, flint and steel, and other odds and ends powder horn - usually made from buffalo horns, which are short and black bullet mold awl - a tool to punch holes in leather so that it could be sewn


1-2 pounds of tobacco in a pouch Possibles bag - a deerskin bag containing:

cured deerskin - for making moccasins, etc. clay pipe in a pipe holder

small wooden box containing castoreum, or beaver scent trade items and trinkets - to trade with Indians

Buffalo robe - to use as a blanket Buffalo(bison) robe - to use as a blanket Kettles - for cooking


1. Divide the class into two equal teams. Give each team (or each student) a copy of “Rendezvous Price! 1825”.

2. Read the problems to them orally one at a time. Allow them 3 to 5 minutes to work. The first team/student to solve the problem correctly wins a point for their team.

3. Once all of the questions have been answered give the team with the most points a reward of your choice.



In 1825, a beaver pelt was worth different amounts if you were a free trapper or you had a contract with a company. How much would you receive for each pelt if you were a free trapper?

Answer: $5.00 per pound.

How much if you had a contract with Ashley? Answer: $2.00 per pound

You are a trapper. To join Ashley’s company you would need your own set of traps. A set has six traps, how much will that cost? Answer: $54.00

How much will a set of 6 traps weigh? Answer: 36 pounds

If you had an Ashley contract how many beaver pelts would it take to buy the following: 5 lbs. of coffee, 5 lbs. of sugar, and 5 lbs. of flour? Answer: 10 pelts

How much would 10 3-point North-West blankets cost? Answer: $90.00

As a free trader the cost of 1 Hawken rifle, 5 lbs. of lead, and 8 lbs. of gunpowder is?

Answer: $45.00

How much would 1 awl, 2 lbs. of salt, ½ lb. of pepper, 1 pair of scissors, and 1 dozen fishhooks

cost? Answer: $11.00

A beaver weighs about 37 pounds. If you caught 8 beaver in one day and carried them back to camp, how much weight did you carry? Answer: 296 pounds

If you were a free trapper and had trapped 250 beaver in 1825, how much money would you have made at the rendezvous? Answer: $2,500.00

You are a trader. American Indians will trade pelts for cloth, dye, and beads. For you to start your business you need 15 yards of blue cloth, 20 yards of scarlet cloth, 20 pieces of vermillion, and 10 pounds of beads. How much will this cost? Answer: $365.00

Ashley could sell pelts in St. Louis for $10.00 each. What is his profit if a contract trapper sold him

150 pelts? Answer: $1,200.00

You are at the headwaters of the Missouri River in Montana and you want to get to Ft. Defiance in South Dakota. Ft. Defiance is half-way to St. Louis, how many miles downstream would you have to travel to get there? Answer: 1,475 miles


Rendezvous Prices!


2,950 miles from st. Louis to the headwaters of the Missouri River in Montana

Beaver Pelts Weigh 2 Pounds (LBS) each

Pepper $6.00/LB Scarlet Cloth $6.00/yd Beaver Pelts Free trappers $5.00/Lb Ashley contract $2.00/LB Sugar

$1.50/LB Blue Cloth $5.00/yd $9.00 each Traps

Weight - 6 lbs Tobacco

$3.00/LB Flannel Cloth $1.50/YD Hawken Rifle $24.00


$1.50/LB $1.50/Dozen Buttons Gun powder $2.00 /lb


$1.25/LB Ribbons $.75/YD $1.00/LB Lead


$1.00/LB $5.00/lb Beads $1.00/Dozen Flints


$13.50/gallon Best Quality 3-point North west blanket

$9.00 each

Fish hooks $1.50/Dozen


$6.00/each $2.00 each Scissors

Awl $2.00 each


$.50/pair $2.50 each Knife

Moccasins $.50/pair

Spurs $2.00/Pair


“See You At the Rendezvous!”

Board game Instructions



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